expressions with tener in spanish

20 Spanish Expressions That Use Tener: Go Beyond “To Have”

Leonor Garcia Published on February 3, 2024

Let’s dive into the Spanish verb tener. It usually means “to have” when we’re talking about owning things. But here’s the catch. Tener is a versatile verb that in Spanish has more meanings. This verb is very popular in common expressions, so learning how to use tener in Spanish will come in handy.

Even though you use tener to say you have a cool gadget or a pet, it’s not just about possessions. Tener is a linguistic tool that also helps express emotions, describe physical feelings, and narrate social situations in Spanish. In this article, we’ll explore 20 common phrases where tener doesn’t mean “to have” and help you expand your Spanish vocabulary. Once you’ve read through this guide, you’ll know how to use the verb tener in Spanish like a pro!

expressions with tener in spanish
Ella tiene frio.

How to Conjugate the verb Tener

To use these expressions, you first need to know how to conjugate the verb tener. Keep an eye out for its irregularities and stem changes, especially in the “yo” form. Take a look at the chart below to see how to conjugate tener in the most common tenses. You can also check out this tener conjugation article to see how to conjugate this verb in all tenses.


Tengo Ganas de (I want to)

Tengo ganas de is a phrase that can be a bit puzzling for English speakers, but it’s the best choice to voice our desires or what we want to do. It’s used for expressing a craving or a genuine wish to engage in a specific activity.

1. Tengo ganas de viajar (I feel like traveling)

“Tener ganas de viajar” is an expression that is used to convey one’s desire to travel. It’s most closely translated to “I want to travel” or “I’m looking forward to traveling.”

Tener Expressions: Physical Conditions

In Spanish, tener is often used to describe physical conditions. When you use expressions like “tener hambre” (to be hungry) or “tener sed” (to be thirsty), you’re essentially saying, “I have hunger” or “I have thirst.” Note that tener (to have) is often used to describe physical states that would use the verb “to be” in English.

2. Tener frío (to be cold)

“Tener frío” translates to “to be cold.” It’s used to express feeling chilly due to low temperatures. “Tengo frío” means “I am cold.”

3. Tener calor (to be hot)

Similarly, “Tener calor” means “to be hot” in the sense of feeling warm due to high temperatures. You say “Tengo calor” when the weather is scorching.

4. Tener hambre (to be hungry)

When you’re hungry in Spanish, you would say “Tengo hambre.” It directly translates to “I have hunger,” but the intended meaning is “I am hungry.”

5. Tener sed (to be thirsty)

Similarly, “Tener sed” means “to be thirsty.” So, whenever you’re thirsty, you can say, “Tengo sed.”

6. Tener sueño (to be sleepy)

Feeling drowsy? Say, “Tengo sueño” to let others know that you are sleepy or tired.

7. Tener dolor (to be in pain)

“Tener dolor” translates to “to have pain” in English. It’s commonly used to describe physical discomfort, such as “Tengo dolor de cabeza,” which means, “I have a headache.”

Tener Expressions: Emotions and Mental States

In Spanish, the verb tener also helps us express how we feel. When we say “tener miedo” (to be afraid), we’re using tener to tell others about our emotions and how we feel.

8. Tener miedo (to be afraid)

If you’re afraid or scared, you’d say “Tengo miedo.” It means “I am afraid.”

9. Tener alegría (to be joyful)

“Tener alegría” points out feeling joy or happiness. For instance, “Tengo alegría en mi corazón” means “I have joy in my heart.”

10. Tener envidia (to be envious)

To express envy or jealousy, use “Tener envidia.” It means “to have envy” or “to be envious.” 

11. Tener vergüenza (to be embarrassed/ashamed)

“Tener vergüenza” is used to describe the feeling of shame or embarrassment. If you’ve done something embarrassing, you might say, “Tengo vergüenza.”

12. Tener paciencia (to be patient)

“Tener paciencia” is an expression for having patience. It’s used in situations where you need to remain patient, such as “Debes tener paciencia” (You must be patient).

13. Tener celos (to be jealous)

You can point out someone’s jealousy with “Tener celos.” To say “I am jealous,” you’d say “Tengo celos.”

Tener Expressions: Relationships and Social Situations

In Spanish, tener also plays an important role in describing relationships and social situations. When you use expressions like “tener confianza” (to be confident) or “tener éxito” (to be successful), you’re using tener to talk about states, connections, and circumstances.

14. Tener confianza (to be confident)

“Tener confianza” means “to be confident.” When you’re feeling assured in yourself, you can say “Tengo confianza.”

15. Tener éxito (to be successful)

“Tener éxito” is used to describe success or achievement. It can be said in the context of work or personal accomplishments, as in “Espero tener éxito en mi proyecto” (I hope to be successful in my project).

16. Tener suerte (to be lucky)

“Tener suerte” means “to be lucky.” When you want to say that you’re a lucky person, you can say “¡Tengo mucha suerte!” (I’m very lucky!).

17. Tener prisa (to be in a hurry)

“Tener prisa” can convey being in a hurry or having little time. For instance, “Tengo prisa, llego tarde” means “I’m in a hurry, I’m running late.”

18. Tener cuidado (to be careful)

When you need to emphasize the need for caution, you can use “Tener cuidado.” For example, “Tienes que tener cuidado con ese perro,” means, “You need to be careful with that dog.”

19. Tener la culpa (to be guilty)

The direct translation for “Tener la culpa” is “to have the blame” or “to be guilty.” You can use this phrase to say that you admit your fault or take responsibility for something.

20. Tener la razón (to be right)

When you want to acknowledge that someone is correct or to assert your own correctness, you can say “Tener razón” or “Tener la razón.” So, “Tienes razón” literally means “You are right,” and “Creo que tengo la razón” means “I think I am right.”

Ways to Practice Spanish Expressions With Tener

To learn Spanish, it’s always best to combine different resources to ensure you’re comprehensively learning the language. You can use Spanish books to learn the different conjugations for the verb tener and see useful sentence examples. Enrolling in online courses is a great option if you prefer more structured learning environments and interactive lessons that ensure a comprehensive understanding of the expressions. You can also hire an online tutor for personalized lessons and practice having a conversation.

Spanish language-learning apps have dynamic and interactive approaches that can teach you common Spanish expressions at a beginner level. Watch TV shows or YouTube videos in Spanish with English subtitles to train your ears and learn the different ways native Spanish speakers use tener. By practicing with these diverse tools, you’ll become more comfortable and speak Spanish like a pro before you know it.

Final Thoughts

Mastering expressions with tener can significantly improve your ability to communicate and understand Spanish. These expressions that you’ve learned offer a rich variety of emotions, physical sensations, and social interactions. When you learn a language, you go through a gradual process, and consistent practice is important. If you want to learn Spanish, stay motivated, and immerse yourself in the language to truly appreciate the beauty and depth it offers. Discover some idiomatic expressions and learn some common slang, and you’ll fit in wherever you go. ¡Buena suerte!

Leonor Garcia

Leonor García is a Peruvian ESL teacher with a bachelor's degree from Universidad Nacional Federico Villarreal. She is fluent in Spanish and English and is currently learning Portuguese. She is passionate about cultural exchange and using languages to drive globalization. Through her writing and teaching, Leonor aims to help people achieve their language learning goals. Connect with Leonor on LinkedIn.

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